Alternate Perceptions Magazine, June 2017
An Interview with Dr. Greg Little on newly discovered Indian Mounds in Alabama, the “Path of Souls” and more!
by: Brent Raynes
Brent Raynes:Your beautifully illustrated pictorial book "Native American Mounds In Alabama: An Illustrated Guide to Public Sites," is absolutely wonderful. There should be an increase in Alabama tourism after this!
Greg Little: Thanks. It was actually a bit more work that I had initially thought it would be. And it's actually a test to determine what the impact of such a book might be. I may or may not do more state versions. I know mainstream archaeologists will ignore it, but it's not aimed at them anyway. But I have already begun revising the 2nd edition of the "Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Indian Mounds & Earthworks" to fix errors and add new sites. That is an enormous amount of work. I think I added about 400 sites in the new encyclopedia version and I've since found another couple hundred and many more have opened to the public. I just detest the errors in the books but long ago accepted that errors and omissions occur. And then there are errors added by editing and others.
Brent Raynes: You've certainly written quite a few other books on Native American mounds and earthworks, including the encyclopeadia on mounds and earthworks that you wrote (which has come out in its second edition that you mentioned earlier). In your writings and in our many conversations, again and again the sad and sobering point has been made that so many, many thousands of these sites across the North American landscape have been destroyed and are forever lost to us. Here, however, you're covering a uniquely and refreshingly different situation. Out in heavily forested, mountainous areas of Alabama, archeaologists are discovering hundreds of mounds and earthworks that were previously unknown, with thousands more believed to be out there and yet discovered!
Can you describe for us how you came upon this fascinating new series of ancient site discoveries, what we know so far, and what you believe may yet be in store for us as these locations are further studied?
Greg Little: I came across the initial reports on the stone mounds in Alabama near the area of Jacksonville, Anniston, and Oxford while I was rewriting the mound encyclopedia back in 2015. But I didn't understand how many of these there were and how important they might be. The sites were essentially first investigated in the early 2000s and a few preliminary reports were issued by archaeological teams in the 2000s. When we visited the sites with Jacksonville State University's Dr. Harry Holstein in early 2017 he had already done so much more work at these sites that his earlier field surveys of them were out of date. For the new Alabama mound book he gave me permission to use his updated maps and surveys. While we were driving through the mountains from site to site, I asked Holstein what was on the many mountains we passed by and through. He casually said that he was sure there were thousands more of them hidden away on both public and private land. He related that they had only done what he referred to as "windshield surveys" because it was often impossible to get into some places. These areas are rugged, infested with rattlesnakes, and most are not on public land. And you can't see them from the air because it's all heavily forested. On our 2017 trip we hiked to several of the accessible sites with Holstein at the ideal time. It was in February, and the trees had no leaves and the underbrush hadn't emerged. You could see the many walls and mounds pretty easily, even though the ground was covered with leaves and fallen timber. Last month, Jim Windisch, who went along with us this past February, went back to do volunteer excavation work with Holstein and his team. Jim told us that it was nearly impossible to see anything at the stone mound sites because of the growth of the underbrush. Holstein also told us that the area has a very high number of rattlesnakes in the Spring and Summer. Back in February Dr. Holstein also took us to a couple places where more stone formations had been found but not yet reported in the professional literature. I need to say that the stone mounds and the walls that snake around the mounds are unlike any of the stone walls I have seen in New England. It's clear that most, if not all the walls in New England, were made by Colonial farmers. But the walls in Alabama clearly were not done in historic times. They are Native American and that it obvious to anyone who knows what to look for and then actually inspects them. So, what's in store is more of them being discovered. Probably a lot more. But I'd caution that there isn't a lot that can be done with most of these since some of them, if not many of them, contain burials or burial goods. I'd hope that some sort of protected park accessible to tourists could be made into the most impressive ones. But we saw quite a few stone mounds that had been looted and we were told details of people who had looted some and recovered artifacts illegally.
Brent Raynes: Your description of the Shelton Stone Mound Complex with its stone mounds and walls, and even a serpent-like stone wall, reminds me of the Euchee (often spelled Yuchi) tradition of honoring their dead by building stone walls. As you reported, Tom Hendrix's massive stone wall (which he called Ishateo, meaning "a quiet place") was constructed by him to honor his great great grandmother Te-lay-nay. It's a remarkable site, complete with a stone prayer circle, and is visited by people from all over the world, including many Native Americans who regard it as a very sacred place. My wife Joan and I have visited it dozens of times. We've lost count exactly how many times.
To my mind, this Euchee tradition with the stones and places like the Shelton Stone Mound Complex are interrelated.
I'm interested to know what your thoughts are on this?
Greg Little: You have explained it in a manner similar to what Holstein says. It's clear that at least some of the mounds were for burials. Some of them represent a ceremonial mound that was used regularly at specific times to honor the ancestors. Tribal members would select a stone and carry it to a particular mound during a ceremony and place the stone on the mound. We do the same sort of thing on Veteran's Day and even when we place fresh flowers on an ancestor's grave. The walls are a real intriguing mystery. It's obvious that some of the walls were placed at sites where spiritual energies emerged. Places like springs, wells, streams, and ponds. We saw quite a few of these and they somehow connect spiritual energy. Then there are walls that just meander around seemingly without any apparent idea behind it. It's known that tribal members went into the mountains for some age-related ceremonies. For example, vision quests, coming into adulthood, and other times for cleansing and contemplation individuals would go up the mountain and stay for days. Some tribes, especially those in the far West, made stone mounds and walls during extended ceremonies. They tended to get their visions at night, but during the day, they made the stone walls to physically exhaust themselves. That's exactly what I concluded as I walked among many of the walls. The individuals making them were organizing and connecting spiritual energies as they believed them to exist. As far as relating it to Tom's Wall, Holstein showed us a couple prayer circles made from stones. These were really impressive. They are what he says they are: prayer circles.
Brent Raynes: Moundville, just 13 miles south of Tuscaloosa, is a huge Mississippian mound complex that archaeologists have determined was an important ceremonial center. In the museum there, one can see numerous artifacts with iconography on them that relate to what have been called the "Path of Souls" spiritual and afterlife beliefs of the ancient people of this region known as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.
Not too long ago, your British friend, colleague and historian Andrew Collins visited this site with you and your wife Lora. He finds these ancient beliefs connected with Moundville intriguing more than most ever since a visit to Turkey a little over a decade ago.
Care to share with the readers why? It's certainly an amazing story!
Greg Little: There is a lot in that question, too much really. Most of the answer was put in the book "Path of Souls," but since that book was released a couple years ago we have much more information. Andrew has been tracing the importance of the Cygnus Constellation since he became convinced around 2004 that Gobekli Tepe in Turkey was aligned to watch the Cygnus constellation at night. He and a couple colleagues then found that Cygnus was important to ancient cultures in Egypt, in South America, in the UK, and throughout Asia and Europe. But in 2004 almost everyone had accepted that the pyramids in Egypt were built to mimic the stars of Orion. Then the Orion proponents started seeing the "three-star" configuration everywhere, even when it was a huge stretch to see and required ignoring all the other components of a particular site to make the three stars seemingly fit. One problem is that the stars of Orion's Belt don't really fit the three pyramids of Giza, but to the Orion proponents that has never mattered. Orion was the "first" such idea proposed and once something like that happens it's difficult for them to see anything else. It's a type of perceptual bias and what in psychology is called "confirmation bias." Once a belief is entrenched it becomes a near impossible task to alter it. Still, I could see that Orion was important in all of this, but at the same time it was just as clear that Cygnus was just as important. And that was seen as a threat to the proponents of Orion and a controversy erupted. The Orion proponents took a stance similar to the archaeologists who for decades wrongly argued, "Clovis-First." Nevertheless it became clear to me that both Orion and Cygnus fit into what the ancients were trying to do, but it wasn't exactly clear how they both fit. It was Andrew who then began finding alignments to Cygnus in Hopewell earthworks and several mound sites. In the early 2000's Andrew started writing that America's mound builders were targeting Cygnus. Since Andrew (and to a lesser extent I) had started writing that Cygnus was aligned to Hopewell sites, there have been a couple mainstream archaeologists who have found that Cygnus was targeted at the same Hopewell sites we mentioned. In essence, they confirmed that Cygnus was important to these ancient people. The unanswered question was, "Why?"
It was the Path of Souls revelation that has made what was intended at these ancient sites clear. I wish I could say that I had made the discovery but I was clueless until a group of about 25 archaeologists, anthropologists, and ethnographers explained the ideas they had gradually confirmed. They started unravelling it in the late 1990s and by 2010 they had it. I'll quickly add that a couple weeks ago I had a telephone conversation with the main member of the group I just mentioned who unravelled the mystery and saw Cygnus as the key. And the answer comes from America's ancient mound builders. They believed that the soul of the dead made a leap to Orion's Nebula and from there the soul got on the Milky Way. The Milky Way was the path the souls took. There were various tasks and trials they had on the journey but they eventually made it to the Dark Rift of the Milky Way where they encountered a judge, usually depicted as a Great Eagle. That was the Cygnus Constellation. If the soul passed the judgment, it went though an opening to the land of the ancestors. This journey could only take place in the Winter, around the time of the Winter Solstice. The openings in the sky are called an "ogee" and they are thought of as slits through the sky that lead to a portal.
Knowing the specific stars that were targeted by the mound builders and the time when the journey was made (on the Winter Solstice) enabled me to start making some calculations on specific mound sites. I was able to go to many sites and get the exact GPS of various mounds and earthworks. But I also could use Google Earth and utilize the accurate mound site surveys made by archaeologists. Then, using a couple computer star movement programs combined with computer horizon/azimuth calculators, I was able to pinpoint the rising and setting of the stars of Orion and Cygnus on the Winter Solstice at the time archaeologists had determined each site was constructed and utilized. I have evaluated about 2 dozen sites so far. What I've found is that many of the Hopewell earthwork sites and a lot of the huge mound complexes like Moundville were made in a way that target the setting sun on the Winter Solstice as well as the setting point of both Orion's Nebula and Cygnus. What this means is that from a central mound, like the one in middle of the huge Moundville complex, you would see the sunset directly behind a specific mound in the distance. They you could see the rising and setting of Orion from the central mound across other key mounds in the distance, and also see the exact setting of Cygnus and its bright star Deneb directly behind another mound. These alignments have emerged time and again at many of the most important sites. I'm not saying that this "death journey" ceremony was the only purpose that the mounds and specific sites were used for, but it was clearly one purpose. It's actually amazing, and it has, at least for me, reconciled the Orion/Cygnus controversy. I haven't yet done the same for Egyptian sites, but I'll get to it eventually. I will say that I did the same calculations for 6,000-year old stone sites in Malta, and the exact same alignments are there.
It's also clear that there were huge ceremonies including cremation bonfires and burial mound construction during this death ritual. I have worked out some of the features of these rituals and they involved groups of people gathering at specific locations where they watched the sunset followed by the rising of Orion, the setting of Cygnus, and the setting of Orion. At each location the shaman and priests would wear ritualistic garb and utilize symbolic artifacts with the use of various substances. To the populace, the priests and shaman held the power of the afterlife in these ceremonies as well as the power of life and death. This was one of the motivating forces at work that allowed them to have so much control over society to the extent that massive construction projects could be organized and systematically done. The repeated use of sites for the death ritual explains why many burial mounds have crematory burials found in layer after layer. Over time, some of these burial mounds reached huge proportions.
You didn't ask, but I'll answer another question that some people may ask. That's, "Why?" Why is Cygnus important? Both Andrew and I agree that it goes way back in time. We know from ancient American beliefs and from South American beliefs that the portal in and out of the sky world to the land of the ancestors was always believed to be in the far North. Some 16,000 years ago, the brightest star of Cygnus and its 9th brightest in the sky, Deneb, served as the North Pole Star. That's when the idea emerged—16,000 years ago or before. Cygnus was THE North star then and viewed as the final portal. The belief in the Path of Souls was carried all over the world and as the sky changed because of Precession, the ideas just adapted to the changing sky. It became increasingly complex and muddled. There were many ancient American tribes whose myths and legends related that they came from the stars and that it was a long journey. To return, the soul has to leap to a close portal on the horizon (Orion), get on the path of the Milky Way, and get to the final portal out—Cygnus. It's like flying from Memphis to London. I typically take a plane to Atlanta and then take another to London. In this example, Atlanta is Orion, and London is Cygnus. In a way, it's all quite incredible. It is an amazingly rich belief system.
Brent Raynes: With all you've written previously and this latest book containing these latest discoveries, I know Greg Little well enough to know he's not finished and is already working on another project or two; if but in his head at the moment. Can you elaborate some? I'm guessing a follow-up on what's presented in this book thus far. Show original message
Greg Little: Well, Andrew and I have agreed to coauthor a new book and that's underway. I hope it can be done before the end of the year but it's already under contract, so it has to get done. It'll trace when the Americas were first settled and from where these people came. It will have a lot on the "giants" found in the mounds and a lot of information on DNA and South America. I'm always working on a new project in my profession of course, but I seldom mention any of that until it's completely finished and released. And then I am seriously considering doing a couple new books related to Edgar Cayce. Last, we have been trying to do a major expedition in the Bahamas and to Cuba. My best guess is that may happen next year, but it's a really complicated process to get it approved. We'll see.